IT SEEMS LIKE the Bush administration is bowling for Michael Moore's head. Hopefully, they'll throw a gutter ball.
Last week, it was announced that the Treasury Department is investigating filmmaker Michael Moore for going to Cuba as part of his new documentary "Sicko," which will debut this month at the Cannes Film Festival.
In March, Moore took several 9/11 first responders who allegedly developed chronic respiratory problems due to toxic conditions at Ground Zero to Cuba for medical care. Moore's new film focuses on the problematic U.S. health-care industry and HMOs. The point of his trip was to show that our health system is inferior to Cuba's socialized medical care.
Moore's request for travel documents were filed six months before his trip. Now the Treasury Department is investigating whether he violated the U.S. embargo of Cuba. The travel and trade ban excludes anyone other than full-time journalists, government officials, members of international delegations, full-time professionals and family.
Moore had requested permission to visit Cuba, a request similar to those previously granted to filmmakers like Steven Spielberg, but never got an answer. The recent Treasury Department inquiry asked Moore for proof that he works for a "news-gathering organization" and for information about who went with him.
Doesn't the government have anything better to do? Instead of shooting the messenger, it ought to focus on our failing health system.
Citing U.S. Census statistics, National Public Radio recently reported that the number of uninsured Americans rose from 31 million in 1987 (13 percent of the population) to 47 million in 2005 (16 percent). According to the Orlando Sentinel, 17 percent of Florida's children are uninsured.
And according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, family health-insurance premiums averaged $11,500 a year in 2006 while a full-time minimum-wage worker earns $10,712. The World Health Organization ranks the U.S. health system 37th in the world, behind Canada, Chile and Costa Rica, and just two spots ahead of Cuba.
Last week, the journal Health Affairs reported that uninsured patients and those who self-pay for hospital care were charged on average 2.5 times more for hospital services in 2004 than what insurers paid, and three times more than Medicare does.
In April, Bill Clinton told a symposium that the U.S. health-care system is immoral because it doesn't provide universal coverage, and uneconomical because of soaring costs. Hopefully, that's where Michael Moore and his new movie will come in. As John Lennon once put it, "A working class hero is something to be."
Several right-wing commentators, including Glenn Beck and John Gibson, have argued that Michael Moore should not be considered a journalist.
While reviled by the right, Michael Moore should be seen as a heroic investigative journalist in the tradition of Upton Sinclair, Lincoln Steffens and Ida Tarbell, exposing corruption and hypocrisy in society, corporations and the government, and championing the causes of working-class people.
In "Roger and Me," Moore focused on the high pay of auto execs compared to massive layoffs of workers. In "Bowling for Columbine," he exposed the National Rifle Association. In "Farenheit 9/11," he took a bold stance against the Bush administration decision to invade Iraq. Moore took a lot of heat for that, but time has proved him correct.
It's true that Moore isn't "objective." Obviously, he goes into his projects with a point of view. But his work is the video equivalent of the work of columnists and op-ed writers, who also gather facts and then interpret them, making persuasive and opinionated arguments based on those facts.
IF MOORE ISN'T a journalist, then neither is George Will, Leonard Pitts, Charles Krauthammer or Ellen Goodman.
Fox News is a propaganda wing of the Bush administration and the GOP, yet they consider themselves journalists.
For millions of Americans, our health care system is a mess. Michael Moore is simply pointing that out in his new film.
Don't shoot the messenger.
Our government needs to fix the problem before we all become sicko. *
Larry Atkins teaches journalism at Temple and Arcadia universities.